It has horses and six-shooters, and it happens in broad daylight, but this story is as noir as they come. Like suspense classics by Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, and Charles Williams, this movie has a simple plot, and characters with dark motivations.
Our hero, Paul (Ethan Hawke), is trying to get to Mexico to escape memories of evil deeds in his past. His adversary, the Sheriff of Denton (John Travolta), knows right from wrong but is losing his grip on power.
When Gilly, the sheriff's son (James Ransone), picks a fight with Paul, and follows up with an act of cruelty, Paul decides to stay in town an extra day to settle the score. WARNING: the bad guys do not die quickly or easily. There is blood. ALSO: When the sheriff repeatedly tells you, "Get away from the window," pay attention!
The morality play is made more profound by two sisters (Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan). One is a soulmate for Gilly; the other has her sights set on better things.
Credit for pitch perfect story-telling goes to writer and director, Ti West, best known for horror films.
From the beginning, you know this is an homage to Sergio Leone's westerns from the 1960s that starred Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). The lonely man on horseback in a desert landscape and the music featuring twangy guitars and a chorus of baritone voices tell you what to expect.
As the movie goes on, the filmmaker winks at you with references to these earlier westerns, and this is not the only source of humor in the movie. As in Alfred Hitchcock's films, these flashes of comedy only make the tragedy darker.